A sacred volcano at the heart of North Korea’s founding mythology. The ruling party’s headquarters, said to be a potential target of South Korean and U.S. military attacks. An art studio that produces giant propaganda statues. And a 150,000-seat stadium in Pyongyang where the country’s unique mass games are performed.
The places South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited during his three-day trip to North Korea are glimpses into the country and how it sees itself.
A look at what Moon saw:
Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited the picturesque active volcano on the North Korean-Chinese border yesterday and took a cable car to the crater lake called “Chonji” where they strolled together.
North Korean documents say national founder Kim Il Sung, the current leader’s grandfather, had an anti-Japan guerrilla base on the slopes of Paektu during Tokyo’s colonial rule. The official biography of Kim Jong Il says the second-generation leader was born on Paektu when a double rainbow filled the skies. The North’s state media have described Kim Jong Un visiting the mountain days before significant events such as the execution of his powerful uncle in 2013 and his New Year’s Day speech this year in which he suggested the Koreas cooperate during the Winter Olympics that were held in South Korea in February.
Moon’s Paektu trip was arranged at Kim’s suggestion. During their April summit, Moon told Kim that a Paektu trek was one of his unrealized wishes.
Paektu is the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula, and climbing the mountain from its Chinese side is popular among South Korean tourists.
THE WORKERS’ PARTY HEADQUARTERS
Moon and Kim held the first of their summit talks Tuesday at the Pyongyang headquarters of the ruling Workers’ Party. It’s where Kim’s office is located, and South Korean media dub it “the heart of North Korea.” Kim rules North Korea in his capacity as the party’s chairman, one of his many official titles such as supreme commander of the North’s 1.2 million-strong People’s Army.
South Korean and U.S. militaries have designated the headquarters among their targets to attack in the event of war on the Korean Peninsula, according to South Korean media.
Moon is the first South Korean leader to hold a summit at the building. The leaders who went to Pyongyang for summits in 2000 and 2007 met with Kim’s father at the Paekhwawon guesthouse where they stayed.
MANSUDAE ART STUDIO
Thousands of government artists work in the huge studio complex to produce everything from propaganda-themed paintings, huge bronze statues and mosaics to watercolor tigers. The studio is on the U.N. sanctions blacklist and subject to an asset freeze and travel ban because of its dispatch of artists and other workers abroad to do projects to generate revenue for the Kim government. African countries are Mansudae’s main overseas market for its socialist-style monuments and statues.
During his visit Wednesday to the studio, Moon looked at paintings of Paektu, an ancient Pyongyang pavilion and the scenic Diamond Mountain where the Koreas once ran a joint tourism project.
He also looked at paintings of Pungsan dogs, the same breed as Moon’s pet, Maru, who lives at the presidential palace in Seoul.
In a guestbook, Moon wrote, “I wish that art would become a bridge connecting South and North Korea as one.”
MAY DAY STADIUM
On Wednesday evening, the two leaders went to the 150,000-seat May Day Stadium to watch a “Glorious Country” mass performance.
The performers moved in unison to display handshakes between Kim and Moon and an undivided Korean Peninsula.
Moon delivered an emotionally charged speech to the crowd, saying that “We lived together for 5,000 years and lived in separation for 70 years. I now propose that we completely eliminate the hostility of the past 70 years and take a big step forward in peace so that we can become one again.”
It was the first public speech by a South Korean president in North Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
The mass games embody socialist ideals, and North Korea revived them for its 70th birthday last month after a five-year hiatus.
In 2000, Kim’s father took visiting U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to a mass performance. The show included a giant mosaic displaying a flying rocket, and Albright later said she was spellbound by the precision of the performance but felt uncomfortable with its glorification of the North Korean government. Kim reportedly told Albright at the time, “This will be our last missile.” Hyung-Jin Kim, Seoul